Yes! We now have our 2nd guest writer on mydearbakes!
We are very fortunate to invite Kiki of dinnerfornone to share with us some tips on pastry photography. =)
We recommend you to swing by her blog to check out Kiki’s creation.
And now, with out further ado … let’s sit back and enjoy the post!
When Lynn contacted me to ask whether I’d be interested in doing a guest post about pastry photography here on mydearbakes, I replied saying that I’d be interested but that I have a very unprofessional way of taking pictures, and outlined what I could write about. She still wanted me to do it, so thank you very much, Lynn! I feel very honoured to be chosen, and I’m still a little baffled, too!
So, welcome to my non-technical guest post. I would like to share a few tricks I’ve learned along the way to take great photos without having to have or buy fancy photography equipment.
How did I get started on photography?
In 2010 I decided to start blogging about food. I got interested in it through three quite famous food blogs I subscribed to, and at some point realised I was only interested in the gorgeous pics. I myself wanted to blog to share my recipes but knew I’d have to supply pictures as well. I had a point & shoot camera that cost less than 100 Euros, played around with it, detected the macro setting and was absolutely fascinated. Both by the macro thing and my food pics. In retrospect, I find those early pictures cringe-worthy and actually thought about replacing them with newer ones over time. However, that wouldn’t reflect reality, and there would be no learning curve visible.
The next step…
…came in 2011. I have a friend who is an experienced photographer and I went to him with questions like “What would I need to do to make my pictures look like the ones on blog xyz?”. I enjoyed the slow learning process because I could see progress. One of my main questions to my friend was always “Is what I want to achieve possible with my cheap camera, or is it rather a question of me using it properly and applying the right technique?”. He watched my progress and anticipated my next obstacles. And then one day he said “This is the point where I would recommend a DSLR.”.
I acquired a used Nikon D70. I wasn’t prepared to shell out tons of money for something I didn’t even know I’d be interested in a year from then. This camera cost me 150 Euros including a 30-70 mm lens. I was totally excited when I finally held it in my hands, but I was also terrified. This was a real camera, and that put pressure on me to produce real pictures, good pictures. As it turned out, a year later I was still interested in photography and even attended two photo workshops. Sadly, my beloved D70 started producing a card reading error that ended in loss of pictures, so it was time to look for another model. I bought a used Nikon D300, which I still have and love even more than the previous one. I paid 500 Euros for this one, and it didn’t even hurt – I intend to keep it for a long time, it makes me a happy snapper!
I own three lenses – the original 30-70 mm, a 60 mm micro lens, and a 105 mm macro lens. These last two I bought second hand from friends. I often use just one lens for a post (except the macro), although at the moment I try to use all three. An overall sort of “the big picture” shot with the 30-70 mm lens, then closer shots with the 60 mm, and a detail shot with the macro lens.
As for the technical side: today I take 10 – 20 “dedicated” shots for a post knowing (or thinking I know :-) ) what I’m doing instead of taking 50 – 100 shots on a hit & miss basis like I did in the early days.
What I also learned to be important is a tripod. With the point & shoot, I sometimes used a mini-tripod. For the DSLR I started out without one, then I was using one of my dad’s old ones that just got me frustrated over time. Last month I decided to invest in a good one that’s basically made for travelling, quite light and small. The cost was approx. 150 Euros, but I’m told it’s totally worth it, and so far I’m happy with it.
How do I shoot food?
When I bake something for my blogs, it’s usually like this: while the pastries are in the oven I go and set up my props in a little corner of the living room I’ve designated for photography.I decide what kind of plates, cutlery, napkins etc. I imagine would look nice with the pastries and then I decide on a good background. Once the pastries are out of the oven, I set up the camera. I fiddle with prop placement, make sure to get the camera settings right and adjust the setting as needed while shooting (I shoot in manual and RAW). I try to get different angles and perspectives because I don’t want all 3 or 4 pics in the post to look the same.
I always have the kind of shots I love on other blogs in the back of my mind as a sort of guideline, even though my end results turn out different; it just makes them more individual. Still, I am never 100 % content with the results but I try to figure out why that is and attempt to do it better next time. Again, I like this learning curve.
Something that’s important to me is that I do my food shots in a reasonable amount of time. My photographer friend and I once did a shoot together, and he took 1 hour just to stake out the light conditions and decide on a perspective. That’s not something I want to do, because it would take away the joy of it all. The pictures are “just” an accompaniment – albeit an important one – to a recipe, and I don’t want the photography part to take longer than the recipe / baking / cooking part.
Speaking of the recipe part: I once read an article on food photography, and one tip was to DIG IN! I agree that taking a piece out of a cake with a fork looks totally inviting and “real” as you don’t just see a pretty cake but something that can actually be eaten. I’m often disappointed when I read baking blogs, see a great cake – but only from the outside. I always want to know what a cake looks like on the inside, especially if I intend to try out the recipe. I want to know what I’ll find inside once I stick my fork in.
Having said that, here’s another tip from unfortunate experiences of my own: only dig in after you’ve downloaded and looked at your pictures! I used to dig in right away in my point & shoot, and by the time I downloaded and realised I had a bunch of blurry pictures, I’d already eaten the goods.
What’s my setup like?
I have really good light in my living room from around 10 am to 3 pm, and I only ever shoot in natural light. One side of the room is almost completely windows and balcony doors. In between the windows and the balcony doors is a chest of drawers to which I push up my little balcony table. The table top is slatted wood, and I sometimes use it as a surface, too. Everything I use is very cost-effective.
I don’t have a reflector – I made my own. The handles of the chest of drawers allow me to place a collapsible metre rule across the ones at the top. Over the end of that I simply hang aluminium foil, and voilà – reflector.
To the side of the chest of drawers I tape photo backgrounds (like this or this) or a sheet of gift wrapping paper. I always use maki tape for this as it comes off more easily than sellotape. I also learned that you can get free wallpaper samples at DIY stores. Backgrounds can often make such a huge difference. It really doesn’t take much money to create a nice setup.
I admit that I’m a real sucker for cute little dishes, bowls, plates, napkins, tea towels… You name it and I might have it in my cupboard. I don’t have much storage room (which is probably a good thing…) so whenever I shop for props, I buy two pieces max of the same thing. When I happen upon something I like, I always try to visualise what I would serve on this particular piece. Sometimes that actually inspires what I bake or cook. I also try to make sure what I buy looks good and can be used on the dinner table when I cook for friends. I always bear in mind that it’s what’s actually on the plate that is the most important bit, but the right prop can really enhance your baked product and make it shine.
As I mentioned above, I sometimes leave the balcony table uncovered if the shot is to be a little rustic. I also use wooden chopping boards as undergrounds. One of my absolutely favourite cheap props is a plastic place mat that looks like a wooden board. Just this week I covered a bale of cloth at IKEA that had a rustic wooden board/table print – 7 Euros for 1 metre; this will cover a big part of my dining room table, so I can now use that for food shots as well.
If you like flea markets or yard sales, it’s always worth checking out the crockery. Personally, I’d love to have some old china cups but I’m not a real flea market goer nor am I good at bartering for stuff. I’ve seen blogs, though, where people use lovely props from the flea market. Or check out your parents’ or grandmother’s attic! Sometimes the things that look totally ugly by themselves can look fantastic in a food shot.
I hope this post doesn’t sound like the actual photography part is the unimportant bit. On the contrary! Whether you shoot in manual or automatic, make sure you’re familiar with the settings on your camera; I’m still not familiar with a lot of the things that my camera can do, but I made sure I know everything I need to know for the specific task of shooting food. I was lucky my friend recommended to shoot in manual right from the moment I received my first DSLR. He did the basic setup, and I went from there.
Editing. I was always against dramatic editing, advocating making a shot look as much as possible the way I saw the scene with my own eyes. There are quite a few free editing programs out there, one of them Irfanview. I was using this for a very long time, until I started shooting in RAW at the end of last year. I bought Lightroom 5 (another special offer with a 40 Euro reduction!), and I’ve been doing some basic editing since I’m still not through with all the tutorials.
If you’re into food photography and haven’t read it yet, I can recommend Helene Dujardin’s book Plate To Pixel.
I hope you’ll be able to get some tips for yourself out of my guest post. If you have any questions, feel free to contact my via my blog contact page – I’d be happy to hear from you!